- Written By 10Melanin Team
10 Black Film Directors You Should Know
A look at some of the biggest achievements of the Black film industry's most notable directors, a lot of which are often breaking new ground and paving the way for others. A must know list for anyone who wants to learn more about Black cinema.
10. Steve McQueen
20th Century Fox
Steve McQueen is best known for his film 12 Years A Slave which with a budget of 20 million managed to gross somewhere near 180 million. It was this film which would make Steve McQueen the first Black director and producer to win Best Picture at the Academy Awards. His other films Hunger, Shame and Widows have also all been well received. As the only British person on this list it's important to note that he is now a Sir and was knighted for his services to film in 2020.
9. Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry is a powerhouse in the Black film industry and is most known for his Madea films in which Perry casts himself as the very funny and obnoxious old grandma Madea. In 2011 he was named the highest-paid man in entertainment by Forbes magazine, earning $130 million between 2010 and 2011. He has has not just directed over 20 films which is a huge achievement in itself but also has directed nearly the same amount in television shows and theatre productions.
8. Malcolm D. Lee
Eli Joshua Adé
Malcolm D. Lee is a mostly known for his directing comedy films, these include The Best Man, Undercover Brother and Roll Bounce. More recently Lee directed the film Girls Trip which with a $20 million budget managed to gross a hung $140 million and was well received critically too. He is not the only person in the film industry in his family, he is cousin to Spike Lee, Joie Lee and Cinqué Lee.
7. F. Gary Gray
F. Gary Gray started off his career directing some of the most iconic music videos such as "It was a good day" by Ice Cube, "Waterfalls" by TLC and "MS Jackson" by Outkast. The success from these videos lead him to direct his first feature film Friday which is now considered a classic in Black film and obviously favourite among stoners. Gray has since continued to leave his mark on the industry with more classics such as Set it Off, The Italian Job and Straight outta Compton generally making films within the thriller and action genre.
6. Ryan Coogler
Ryan Coolger's first feature film Fruitvile Station was a beautiful and heartbreaking portrayal of the murder of Oscar Grant, a young Black man killed by police officers on New Year's Day in 2009. The film won multiple awards at the Sundance Film Festival in 2013 and received mostly positive reviews. Since then Coolger has gone on to direct more commercial films such as Creed which he also co-wrote and the extremely popular Black Panther which is currently 12th highest grossing film of all time. Coolger's upcoming projects include writing Space Jam 2 and directing the highly anticipated Black Panther 2.
5. Ava DuVernay
Ava DuVernay is one of few Black female directors to make big waves in not just the film industry but also in television. Her most famous movie Selma received outstanding reviews upon release and holds a 99% score on Rotten Tomatoes. DuVernay's more recent film Disney A Wrinkle In Time made her the first Black woman director to helm a 100 million dollar budget, which was great news but she herself stated "she isn't the first to be capable of doing so".
4. Barry Jenkins
Maarten de Boer
Barry Jenkins most famously made history by directing the first film with an all Black cast and the first LGBTQ+ film to win an Oscar with the film Moonlight. While Barry Jenkins made his directing debut all the way back in 2008 with Medicine for Melancholy it would be another 10 years before he is recognised as an important asset to the film industry. He also directed the critically acclaimed film If Beagle Street Could Talk and in 2020 his fourth film was set to premiere Charm City Kings however has been delayed due to the coronavirus but since it has been acquired by HBO Max and will be aired later in the year.
3. Jordan Peele
With just two films, Get Out and Us, Jordan Peele has managed to change Black cinema forever. Both critically acclaimed films have shone a light on the horror genre which is often lacking in representation of Black people because they are rarely cast but if they are its common knowledge that they tend to die first. Peele mixes original storytelling, compelling acting and beautiful cinematography to produce films that will have you both mesmerised and on the edge of your seat. Most recently he has worked with upcoming director Nia DaCosta on the film Candyman which was due to release in 2020.
2. John Singleton
John Singleton was the first Oscar nominated Black director, which he received for his film Boyz N the Hood, he has since gone on to direct other classic films such as Poetic Justice, Higher Learning, Baby boy, Shaft and 2 Fast 2 Furious. Singleton’s work stretched over many genres and explored different themes unlike a lot of directors from action to romance to coming off age. He showed support for many Black actors and actresses by often featuring them in multiple films. He unfortunately he passed at the age of 51 in 2019.
1. Spike Lee
Shelton Jackson (more famously known as 'Spike Lee') is a director, writer, producer, actor and professor. Lee is the founder the production studio 40 Acres and a Mule Filmworks which is named after the compensation that Black slaves were promised after slavery ended but were never received, it has produced over 35 films since 1983. He has directed some of the most groundbreaking Black films to date such as Do the Right Thing, Crooklyn, BlacKkKlansman, She's Gotta Have It and Malcolm X. His films regularly explore issues facing the Black community such as race relations, colourism and poverty to name a few. Many of his films have also been selected by the Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant.